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Cheney Casts Senate Vote to Rescue Bush's Budget

April 04, 2001|JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney cast his first tie-breaking vote in the Senate on Tuesday, rescuing President Bush's budget plan from a Democratic effort to scale back the administration's $1.6-trillion tax cut proposal in order to increase funding for a new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Cheney cast his vote during debate on a budget resolution that includes the outlines of Bush's fiscal policy, including his tax cut plan.

To stave off the Democratic attack, Cheney cast the deciding vote for a Republican alternative that promised funding for a prescription drug benefit only if it is linked to broader reform of Medicare.

The dramatic roll call was the first of many efforts by Democrats during this week of debate to scale back the proposed cut in taxes.

Cheney's vote was needed when one Republican--Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island--joined 49 Democrats to oppose the GOP alternative. One Democrat, Zell Miller of Georgia, crossed over to vote with the Republicans, creating the 50-50 tie.

The vote provided a preview of what many consider the likely outcome of the tally on the overall budget resolution at week's end--that it will be approved on a 51-50 vote, with only Miller and Chafee crossing party lines and Cheney weighing in to break the tie.

The Constitution gives the vice president, who is officially the Senate's presiding officer, the power to vote only to break ties.

Cheney was already in the Capitol to lobby wavering senators on the administration's tax cut and budget proposals. However, GOP leaders had not been sure they would need Cheney this early in the debate. They knew that Chafee is expected to vote against the budget resolution but thought he would stick with the party in votes leading up to final passage.

After Chafee cast his vote, GOP leaders labored to persuade him to change his mind but to no avail.

The budget resolution sets tax and spending outlines for the coming year, with the details to be filled in later by specific bills.

Tuesday's Democratic amendment would have pared the Bush tax cut by $158 billion and added it to the $153 billion he has requested for prescription drug benefits.

Republicans countered with an amendment that left the tax cut intact but authorized Congress to tap a "reserve fund" established by the budget resolution to provide up to $300 billion for a Medicare drug benefit--but only if it was part of a broader plan to rescue the health care program from a financial crunch expected when baby boomers begin retiring in droves.

Democrats complained that the GOP plan is a risky way to finance the new benefit because the reserve fund is expected to be tapped for a host of other priorities, including increased defense spending.

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